Since Microsoft* released the Windows 8.1 RTM (Release to Manufacturing) build, we are able to check out some of the new UI features in this upcoming Windows release. This blog is based on the preview releases that are publicly available. The information is subject to change by Microsoft when Windows 8.1 is released.
On the Windows 8.1 “Start” screen (Figure 1), a total of 4 tile sizes (large square, wide, medium square, and small) are available, compared to only two in Windows 8 (wide, and small). There is an downward arrow button at the bottom-left corner. Pressing the arrow button leads to the “Apps” screen (Figure 2), which shows all the apps installed on the system.
Figure 1 The Windows 8.1 Start screen includes tiles for apps, the down-ward arrow at the bottom left corner leads to the Apps screen
In Windows 8.1, a user installed app does not automatically show up on the Start screen by default. Instead, it only appears in the “Apps” screen. The user can explicitly “pin” the app to the Start screen.
Figure 2 The Apps screen includes icons for all apps installed on the system
After Windows 8 was released, I could imagine many people sent their messages to Redmond, WA: “Where is the Start button?”, and Microsoft did hear the voice. As Mr. Ballmer announced at Build 2013, the “Start” button is back in Windows 8.1. The behavior of the Windows 8.1 Start button is different from the previous versions: short press or left click at it will toggle between the Start screen and the Desktop mode, while long press or right click at it will bring up the Start button menu (Figure 3).
Figure 3 Right click at the Start button at the bottom left corner will show the Start button menu
One significant improvement we saw in Windows 8.1 is in search. “Global search” is now incorporated in the Search charm (Figure 4). This is the real search a user would expect. In Windows 8 the default search charm behavior was searching for an app locally, which was quite limited. Global search is also called “Smart search”. It is powered by the Bing search services. It aggregates information from different sources and presents to the user in a hub view. For example, Figure 5 shows the search result of “yellowstone”.
Figure 4 The Search charm automatically perform Global Search
Figure 5 The Bing-powered Windows 8.1 Search returns the aggregated information from multiple sources
Windows 8 introduced the “Snapped” view multitasking concept, but only allowed the snapped app to occupy the screen a fixed 320 pixels in width. Windows 8.1 allows flexible adjustment on how the multitasking apps occupy the screen (Figure 6). It also allows the multitasking of more than 2 apps.
Figure 6 Windows 8.1 provides more flexibility on how to arrange the two snap view apps on the screen, in this case the two apps occupy 50/50 of the screen
Two lock screen features are added in Windows 8.1. The lock screen can be configured to play a photo slide show. From the lock screen, the user can also directly access the camera.
Windows 8.1 includes other UI changes. For example, it can be set up to directly boot into the Desktop mode instead of the Modern UI. It also provides more color and theme personalization options for users.
This blog discusses Windows 8.1 UI features. For in-depth discussion, developers may also check out the following MSDN* links:
· Windows 8.1 Preview Product Guide for Developers http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/apps/bg184615
· Windows 8.1 feature guide: http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/windows/apps/bg182410
· Migrating Windows 8 apps to Windows 8.1 Preview http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/apps/dn263113.aspx
*Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others.